Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dating in Korea: Culture Clash

There's no secret: I am completely in love with Mr. Y.

Our relationship has grown and endured a lot of different difficulties, things that neither of us could have ever prepared for. He was my first serious boyfriend and I was his first serious girlfriend as far as interracial and intercultural relationships are concerned. This meant... a lot of adjustment. We needed to show the molds we've become accustomed to without forcing each other into said molds. I needed to learn what it means to date a Korean man and he needed to learn what it means to date an American woman. This has caused everything from excitement to anxiety to biiigggg fights, but we've come through all of it.

However, if you're starting a serious relationship with a Korean man, these are some things I'd like to warn you about that you might not have thought could be issues...

Your Weight

Yep, that super-sensitive "my boyfriend should NEVER talk about this" topic is going to be a part of a casual conversation with your Korean man. Koreans, in general, do not have as much of a sensitivity or filter when it comes to commenting on another person's appearance. If you ask your Korean man if you look fat... no wait, if you ask ANY Korean if you look fat and you are not, at that moment, a size 0, their answer will most likely be "yes." They are also not shy of telling you you're breaking out, your makeup looks bad, or that your hair is strange, this is just kinda typical but it won't be very often until you begin to date a Korean. This doesn't go for Foreign Male- Korean Girl relationships. as far as I know, but I've had a few of my foreign lady friends tell me that their Korean guys have casually dropped a "you're kinda bigger, maybe you shouldn't be so big" hint.

That, a personal trainer, and a strict dier took me from the person on the left to the person on the right, so it's not all that bad.

You Might Not Be Priority #1

When I asked my friends to contribute something to this entry the thing most of them agreed on was that Korean men are extremely dedicated to their jobs or their studies. I can't tell you how many times Mr. Yang has broken plans with me because of an unplanned work dinner (aka his director just randomly deciding that he wants all of his employees to go to dinner with him). Being with a Korean man takes a good deal of patience and understanding, because about 90% of the time it's not their fault that they're so busy. From a young age Korean people are taught to be diligent and hard-working. To make it through middle school and high school in Korea you basically need to have no social life and just study all the time, especially if you're wanting to make it into a good college. These habits are hard to break so they'll continue this mentality into their workplace. Expect to have plans called off out of nowhere and always have a back-up plan just in case.

That works.
Meeting the Family is a WAY Bigger Deal

You know that horrible, sinking stomach anxiety meeting your boyfriend's parents was back in your home country... you have no idea what you're in for. Don't expect your Korean boyfriend to invite you over to his parent's house for dinner anytime soon after you frist start dating. Meeting the parents is normally reserved for after you've been dating a long time (think 6 months or more) or when he's REALLY serious about you. I've met Mr. Yang's parents in passing, but have never had so much as a coffee with them and we've been dating for 10 months. We're a serious couple but we're not exactly getting married any time soon. Don't ask to go to the parents' house, him not inviting you doesn't mean he isn't serious about you, it just means he's not sure if he wants to answer 1,000 "when are you marrying her" questions daily until you two either marry or break up. He might not even tell his parents he has a girlfriend in order to avoid them probing him for information. Just relax, he'll know when the time is right for you to meet them.

Expat Anxiety

Most likely, if your Korean boyfriend is VERY good at speaking English he's had a good number of Native English Speaking (NES) friends. He's maybe had a few close NES friends or possibly dated an NES or two in his time. Koreans generally understand that the best way to improve their English speaking skills is to make friends with NES people. It has the major benefits of being able to hear English as it is actually spoken and having someone to ask all those silly questions you'd never ask an actual teacher (i.e. "What's a queef?"). The big negative of making friends with NESs, same as with being an expat, is that, sooner or later, a lot of the people you have come to know and love are going to leave. If you and your Korean boyfriend have gotten really serious he might begin to get really nervous that you might leave him to move back to your home country. They've maybe even been hurt before.

Expats, no matter what the country, are often seen as anchorless people roaming the globe. You need to be upfront with your Korean guy about your plans for the future. I think one of the major things that helped Mr. Yang and I's relationship was that I let him know early on that I had no plans to leave Korea soon, though I do want to move back home eventually. This wiggle room gave our relationship space to grow. If you are planning on leaving in the next year, you better be upfront with him, because that's something he deserves to know.


  1. Enjoyed your take on the issue very much. If you don't mind me asking - is this Mr. Yang the same person you referred to as your now-ex? Just wondering. If he is indeed - do you think your break up was due to some cultural incompatibility, or was it just regular, run-of-the-mill, two people are breaking up for their own personal reasons?

    1. Kind of a combination of the two. We were incapable of reconciling our cultures as well as some personal issues, some of which were only because of inability to accept differing views. I'm still dating Koreans, though!